See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 23, Issue 2

Are We Born to Be Religious?

Genes and personality influence our attitudes toward religion

Bara K. Kristinsdottir/Aurora Photos

A deep question pervades the debates surrounding religion—whether God exists, sure, but that one is mighty difficult to answer. Instead we can ask a related, more approachable query: Why does God exist for some of us but not for others? Theologians and ministers preach that faith is preeminently a matter of personal choice. Is it, really?

Not everyone is a believer, of course, nor do we all maintain allegiance to a single belief system throughout the course of our life. Almost half of American adults, for example, have changed religious affiliation at least once during their lifetime, and most do so before age 24, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Although religious affiliation may be fluid, once people enter adulthood they tend to stick with one category, retaining either faith in God or the absence thereof.

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